The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Politically Motivated Violence Is on the Rise

Making the click-through worthwhile: How a small act of vandalism in Alexandria, Va., suggests we’re likely to see more politically motivated violence, not less; America’s gun owners send a message with their wallets; and a horrific act in Toronto that technically wasn’t formal terrorism but is starting to feel indistinguishable from it.

Politics, the Drug That Justifies the Urge to Hurt Other People

Associated Press, April 21: Protester faces charges for vandalism at NRA lobbyist’s home.

Back in 2003, Chris Hedges wrote a book entitled War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. (You can probably get the gist of his perspective from his 2008 book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.) Still, there’s a lot of truth in the title. Think of all the martial metaphors we use to describe the ups and downs of life: We’re in a battle, we’re charging forward, we’re crusading for a cause, we’re chasing a goal, we’re fighting for our beliefs, we’re taking a beating, we’re getting flak, our proposal is shot down, we’ve reached a ceasefire. A new idea represents a “revolution.”

Perhaps politics is another force that gives many Americans meaning. It gives them an enemy, a target and focus for all of their worst impulses and feelings. Very few of us can completely escape the temptation to feel hate, contempt, disdain, and a desire for someone else. Politics gives us a target and an excuse.

See those people over there? They’re not just mistaken or wrong, they’re trying to destroy the country. They’re “a basket of deplorables,” as Hillary put it.

Ted Nugent — not merely an aging rock star, but member of the board of the National Rifle Association — declares “the evidence is irrefutable,” the Parkland survivors who are pushing gun control “have no soul.” No one feels guilt about attacking a vampire or a zombie or a robot; their lack of a soul means there is no moral consequence.

Connecticut governor Dannel Malloy decreed, “The NRA acts like a terrorist organization” and defends the label because the organization “uses fear to coerce.” (No word on whether the governor believes labeling another group of people “terrorists” is using fear to coerce as well.)

Former sheriff Joe Arpaio — on the ballot as a Senate candidate today in Arizona — insists that he has scientific evidence from Italy proving that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is a “fake document” and that he was never eligible for the office of the presidency. It’s not enough to say, “I disagreed with a lot that Obama did as president” or “Obama was a lousy president”; he had to be an illegitimate one, the centerpiece of a nefarious far-reaching plot to install a Kenyan who would do things no “real” American president would ever do. Apparently, it’s too much to ask Arpaio to drop his focus on this issue, more than a year past Obama’s second term.

If you vandalize somebody’s house for the sake of vandalism, you’re just a punk. But the human mind’s capacity for self-justification is remarkable. In the AP story, the message is more or less that the Cox family deserved it:

Koebel acknowledged that the protests are confrontational, but said the tactic is warranted under the circumstances.

“He’s profiting off murders and suicides,” Koebel said of Cox. She accused the NRA of encouraging its supporters to use armed intimidation as a political tactic.

Let’s tease this statement out a bit. There’s no evidence that the NRA’s Chris Cox actually is profiting off of murders and suicides; if he was, law enforcement would be pressing charges. What the protesters mean is that they are really angry about gun violence and they are angry that Cox disagrees with their desire to see private ownership of firearms banned. There is no real denial that throwing fake blood on the house of Cox and his family doesn’t constitute a crime of vandalism; the defense is “the tactic is warranted under the circumstances” — that Cox deserves to be the victim of a crime because he disagrees with the protesters.

Some people gave my friend Kurt Schlichter some grief about his speculative fiction novels that imagined the United States splitting into two countries, a traditional United States and a breakaway “People’s Republic of North America” that attempts to enact the progressive idealist dream and encounters quite a few problems along the way. Some contend that Kurt is rooting for this scenario or attempting to encourage some sort of secessionist fantasy. I don’t think that’s a fair reading of a man who says his military service in the Balkans shaped his view of this issue, but I suppose some might think that depicting a formally divided America might inadvertently encourage people to think more about a formally divided America.

But to those who feel so horrified at the thought of the United States no longer being so united, it feels fair to ask . . . just what road do you think we’re on? Did we see a lot of soul-searching after the attempted mass shooting on the Republican baseball team, or the attempt to run Representative David Kustoff off the road, or the assault on Congressman Rand Paul? Was there anything like the aftermath of the Gabby Giffords shooting, when President Obama spoke of the need to debate our differences “in a way that heals, not a way that wounds”?

If we no longer even go through the motions of calling for a debate that doesn’t demonize and dehumanize our opponents — “Deplorables!” “Soulless!” — just how wild and unthinkable does more political violence seem? And if more political violence doesn’t seem so unthinkable . . . why would a future formal national division be unthinkable as well?

Oh, Hey, Look Who just had Their Best Fundraising Month In 15 Years

Then again, maybe the angry Left is a lot more self-marginalizing than the pessimists think.

As the student-led March for Our Lives movement captured the nation’s attention in the weeks after the Parkland shooting, the other side of the gun control debate enjoyed a banner month of its own.

The National Rifle Association’s Political Victory Fund raised $2.4 million from March 1 to March 31, the group’s first full month of political fundraising since the . . . shooting on Valentine’s Day, according to filings submitted to the Federal Elections Commission. The total is $1.5 million more than the organization raised during the same time period in 2017, when it took in $884,000 in donations, and $1.6 million more than it raised in February 2018.

The $2.4 million haul is the most money raised by the NRA’s political arm in one month since June 2003, the last month when electronic federal records were readily available. It surpasses the $1.1 million and $1.5 million raised in January and February 2013, the two months after the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Most of the donations, $1.9 million of the $2.4 million total, came from small donors who gave less than $200.

I’m no math major, but that means at least 9,500 Americans gave $200. We keep hearing the NRA described as a bunch of fat-cats. Come on, gun-control advocates. You don’t have to change your views, just acknowledge reality. To tie together two great projects of Charlton Heston, the secret of the NRA is the secret of Soylent Green: They’re both made of people.

Genuine Terror That Isn’t Formally Terrorism but Doesn’t Feel All That Different

Is deliberately running down pedestrians the new school shooting? As in, if you’re a mentally troubled malcontent full of rage at the world, this is how you decide to go out in a blaze of glory instead of dealing with the day-to-day problems of life like the rest of us?

The killing began on a busy lunchtime thoroughfare in Toronto on Monday when a white rental Ryder van ran over a pedestrian crossing the street — then mounted a sidewalk and began plowing into people indiscriminately.

“One by one, one by one,” said a witness who identified himself as Ali. “Holy God, I’ve never seen such a sight before. I feel sick.”

By the end, at least 10 people were dead and 15 were injured, said the authorities.

The driver’s actions, they said, appeared intentional, but did not seem to have been an act of terrorism. “The city is safe,” said the Toronto police chief, Mark Saunders.

The carnage was reminiscent of deadly attacks by Islamic State supporters using vehicles that have shaken up Nice, France, Berlin, Barcelona, London and New York. But late Monday, Canada’s public safety minister, Ralph Goodale, said this time appeared to be different.

“The events that happened on the street behind us are horrendous,” he said, “but they do not appear to be connected in any way to national security based on the information at this time.”

That statement is less reassuring than the speaker intended.

Bombs in the mail and on the street in Austin, a shooter in the halls of YouTube, a mass shooter in Las Vegas — remember him? Remember how authorities never determined a motive? — bombs on ferries in Playa Del Carmen in Mexico, speeding vans on the sidewalks in Toronto . . .

Are we sure terrorist groups have no influence on the mentally troubled?

ADDENDA: My friend Lisa de Pasquale informs me that Newt Gingrich is now offering his own version of a MasterClass entitled “Defending America.” The class consists of six on-demand videos of Gingrich laying out how the American vision of a “melting pot” of blended cultures has been poisoned; how faith and traditional values are attacked and demonized; how paths to success and opportunity are blocked to increase dependence upon government; how the concepts of “thought police” and criminalizing unpopular speech and ideas is no longer so farfetched; how Constitutional principle like the right to bear arms is blamed for violence instead of the actions of criminals, and how government workers, lobbyists, and influence organizations work in tandem to ensure government changes only marginally, no matter who wins elections. It is Newt Gingrich in his element, weaving together history and current politics, combining insider knowledge with the historian’s big-picture perspective.


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